Today, we’re eagerly anticipating the launch of the new Ford Mustang in late summer, but at the start of the Swinging ’60s it was the new, third-generation Ford Thunderbird that was vying for attention among British aficionados of American muscle.
Available from Lincoln Cars on London’s Great West Road as a semi-official import, the 1961 Thunderbird was a completely new design, although it remained a two-door, close-coupled four-seater. Power came from a 300bhp 6.4-litre V8, linked to a Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission, while wishbone-type front suspension was balanced by a live rear axle and semi-elliptic springs at the rear. Our road testers needed no second invitation…
Nor did they need to make any excuses. Steering agility was rated as “extraordinary”, the damping coped “very well” with British roads and the cornering characteristics were “stable” – although the latter came with a slightly disappointed note that “there appears to be neither oversteer nor understeer”.
Acceleration, meanwhile, was “exceptional”, with 0-60mph taking 9.3sec and 0-100mph 26.3sec, and even the auto ’box was noted to “change so smoothly that sometimes it was impossible to detect the shifts”. Even a test best fuel economy of 15mpg was forgiven (it averaged just over 13mpg after spirited performance tests), due to the car’s two-tonne weight and the engine’s mighty cubic capacity.